Gary Neville admits he was relieved but disappointed when friend and team-mate David Beckham left Manchester United.
Neville and Beckham were part of the most successful team in United’s history, both graduating from the club’s renowned ‘Class of ’92’ to become treble winners in 1999.
Not only were the pair friends off the pitch, but they partnered up to create havoc for the opposition on the right-hand side of the Old Trafford pitch. Neville played at right-back behind Beckham, who whipped in cross after cross from the right wing.
But in the summer of 2003, Beckham reportedly fell out with legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson, and eventually left the club for Real Madrid. While Neville stayed at United for the rest of his playing career, he was slightly relieved when the England legend left the club.
“I knew it was coming to an end a little bit from the previous 12 months,” Neville said in an interview with Jonathan Shrager (@JonathanShrager on Twitter). “I was aware of the things that were going on behind the scenes.”
“I was disappointed when he left but I was also disappointed when Nicky Butt left. I was disappointed when my brother left, I was disappointed when Roy Keane left and I was disappointed when Denis Irwin left. They were a massive part of our lives and our careers at United.
“It wasn’t just the lads around me – David, Phil and Nicky and such like. When a player of that magnitude left there was a void. They’re a big miss.”
He added: “To be honest with you, at the time ‘sad’ probably wasn’t the right word [to describe how I felt about Beckham’s departure].
“I was probably relieved a little bit. For him, for the club – it could never end badly, that relationship. David had done so much for the club and the club had done so much for David.
“He always harboured this hope of playing abroad, I think, and playing in European football.
“Looking at what he’s done in his career now: playing at Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, AC Milan, Manchester United, LA Galaxy… it’s a great career. You can’t look at it and think that he was wrong. He’s richer for those experiences.
“His time had probably come at United where he was right to leave. There was a bit of me that was relieved that that tension, that little bit of an underlying thing that was there had gone.
“He was a brilliant player and I loved playing with him.”
Beckham later played for LA Galaxy, AC Milan and Paris Saint-Germain, before eventually retiring in 2013. What a player.